Community services

How Episcopal Community Services Helps Families Access Nutritious Foods and Healthy Habits

The pandemic has upended jobs, housing and an entire economy.

National food insecurity has increased, and Philadelphia has not escaped this impact. In 2021, an estimated 29% of Philadelphians faced food insecurity, a rate that increased by one-fifth from 2018, according to Feeding America. This is almost double the national average.

In response, Episcopal Community Services (ECS) and its partners have prioritized food accessibility through its expanded community cupboard and programming. One of the communities served by ECS is Carroll Park, a neighborhood in West Philadelphia that the 91-year-old nonprofit has served for more than 20 years. Originally built as a shelter for homeless families, his St. Barnabas Mission facility has evolved into a community center.

“Our outreach activities have been feeding families in the neighborhood for 10 years, where food insecurity is one of the most talked about concerns,” says Rhena McClain, director of the Saint-Barnabé Mission. “There has been a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking emergency food in recent years – and the pandemic has only increased the challenge of meeting their basic need for food access, not to mention a healthy diet.”

When St. Barnabas functioned as an emergency shelter, protecting the confidentiality and the safety of its residents was a priority. “We are now able to welcome more neighbors and become more involved in the community,” she adds.

In recent years, the nation’s main standard of care for homeless families has shifted from a system of supportive shelters like St. Barnabas Mission to a system of moving families directly into their own homes. In keeping with its commitment to provide safe housing, ECS has tripled the number of units in its rapid rehousing programs, maintaining 60 stable homes for homeless families.

Yet in Carroll Park, ECS gathered neighborhood feedback at town hall-style meetings — both in-person and virtual — to hear directly from the source what they said the area needs. Softly launched in April 2021, Mission Meals + Market at St. Barnabas Mission offers the following initiatives, with plans for continued growth and additional programs.

A look at the closet

Community food cabinet

DHW with Philabundance extended the hours of its community food cabinet and nearly doubled the number of families it supports. Previously, prepackaged meal kits were provided, but now, with open doors, neighbors select their own groceries, taking only what they want and need from a free-choice market, a bit like a grocery store. Shelves are stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, non-perishable canned goods, health and hygiene items, and cleaning supplies. The open-choice model not only creates a more respectful space, but also reduces waste.

Nutrition education + workshops

All ECS health and wellness programs and classes have been transferred to St. Barnabas Mission. Neighbors who stock their fridges and pantries can also stock up on knowledge that promotes healthy eating, cooking and shopping. Courses include SNAP Education and Feed Your Potential 365 in partnership with the Health Promotion Council, Aramark, and the American Heart Association, respectively.

Community kitchen

Already a popular volunteer activity, Cook-Off is increasing its impact by providing more opportunities for volunteers to prepare meals for food-insecure seniors. Volunteers will meet weekly to assemble nearly 1,000 nutritious meals in the facility’s commercial kitchen. The cooking is done by salaried chefs, then plated and packed by volunteers. ECS then delivers the meals to four local seniors’ residences.

Pamela Egleston, director of health and wellness programs, sees the endless possibilities of building a healthier community through more focused outreach. Previously, health education and CSE workshops were held at community centers for short-term cohorts.

“By having a constant presence, we hope to retain more families who will return again and again for interactive workshops, connect with their neighbors and maintain healthy habits – which, as we all know, are easy to break,” says Egleston. . “And you can never learn too much.”

McClain, a West Philly native, sees how few healthy food options are in low-income communities, including this neighborhood she loves.

“I’ve been to West Philly all my life. And I know the distance I drive from my home to St. Barnabas…you just don’t see a lot of places to eat. You see convenience stores and convenience stores, but not places to buy the fresh food you need to cook for your family,” she says.

And these communities are more likely to already face more barriers, such as a lack of easy transportation, less money or irregular income to spend, and health conditions or family obligations that make travel difficult. long and long walk an obstacle.

“Put simply, quality food is out of reach by design in neighborhoods like this,” adds McClain, but with optimism to change that. “There is the saying ‘give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.’ But what happens when there are no fish in the pond?

Just as Saint-Barnabé was a beacon of hope for families experiencing homelessness, ECS’s goal is to ensure that this new use of space will help it remain a hopeful space. , which continues to help families in this neighborhood and beyond.


In-kind donations are essential to the success of Mission Meals + Market, especially the free-choice Community Food Cupboard. If you would like to help stock the shelves, please email [email protected] or call 215.528.5407. The generous support of people like you makes all the difference.

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